The Impact of COVID-19 on Retailers, Brands, and Marketers
On March 20, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a stay-at-home order, one no American ever thought they would hear. He ordered all nonessential New York retailers and businesses to close and for residents to stay at home in a necessary effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. Every major city in the U.S. followed suit and, overnight, our lives changed. Restaurants closed, retailers boarded up brick-and-mortar locations, passengers were grounded from flights, hotels vacated, and streets became empty.
No longer was there a need to purchase a car, plan a vacation, or even buy new clothes. Even today, three months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, most Americans are still spending the majority of time at home. This highlights a major concern for retailers and brands: How do they ensure consumers will continue to shop during a time when everything else has come to a halt? Pier 1 Imports is closing all of its stores. J.Crew, Neiman Marcus, J.C. Penny, Gold's Gym, and True Religion Apparel are some of the brands that filed for bankruptcy. How can retailers survive in a post-COVID future?
Know Your Customers
The answer lies within one of the fundamental reasons for a brand’s success — truly understanding its customers. Consumers are still shopping, but their needs have changed. They haven’t disappeared, but the “must-haves” vs. “nice-to-haves” are different.
To be successful post-COVID, a truly successful brand must be able to first anticipate and then meet the needs of its customers. During the pandemic, there was an increased need for leisurewear and self-care products. Coming out of COVID, there might be a spike in summer clothing or makeup. The key is to know what your customers want before they do; to do that, you must understand them. Look at your data to see which products are trending, and in which markets. Identify the consumers who are quick to buy, and segment those from the ones who need more time. Amplify your promotions and marketing accordingly.
Create Positive Experiences
The good news for brands is it has never been easier to engage with their target audiences. During this pandemic, consumers are stuck at home and are often glued to their phones. Whether it’s to connect with their friends or to search news sites for the latest updates on the crisis, they're craving connections, interactions and familiarity. Successful brands are the ones that are interacting with consumers across social media, staying relevant and top-of-mind even when stores are closed.
People want to hear about a brand's efforts to fight the spread of COVID-19 and more as the economy starts to reopen. In addition, people want to be engaged. Hosting interactive shopping sessions on Instagram or promoting positive and uplifting content relevant to a target audience is what ensures consumers will keep coming back. And this won’t change post-COVID. In fact, I foresee retailers and brands will have to work harder to create one-to-one experiences that are unique to each shopper.
Imagining a Post-COVID World
There are also many new opportunities post-pandemic that brands can pivot to be a part of. Demand is at an all-time high for anything people can enrich their lives with as they slowly re-enter the world. These can include pools, cooking supplies, self-grooming products, loungewear, home entertainment, etc. There are also going to be many new opportunities, as social distancing continues, that aren't apparent yet. Having to go above and beyond traditional methods will be required, including thinking about ways to engage shoppers while staying safe. The smart brands are going to anticipate what those new opportunities are and pivot now to be ready for them.
Brands should also remember that with great power comes great responsibility. Unfortunately, there will be many brands that won’t have the ability to change their business model to survive during COVID-19. The brands that do, and especially the ones that are able to be profitable, should do what they can to help.
No one knows what a post-COVID future looks like. Though there are hopes that we will slowly get back to “normal,” it's evident that this will be our new normal for some time to come. This new reality has caused unprecedented disruption and, in many cases, catastrophic ramifications for thousands of businesses across the world. The various needs and desires of consumers that brands built their businesses around ended, basically overnight. But together, we can get through this.
Andrew Furman serves as senior vice president of sales at Outbrain, overseeing North America. Outbrain is a digital native advertising company at the center of the feed discovery innovation.
Andrew Furman serves as Senior Vice President of Sales at Outbrain overseeing North America. Outbrain is a digital native advertising company at the center of the feed discovery innovation.
In his current and past roles, Andrew consults brands, agencies, and publishes on how to successfully execute digital content marketing strategies and initiatives. Andrew has over 20 years of advertising sales and sales management experience, which includes over six years at FOX in both NY and Chicago. Andrew graduated from Indiana University School of Business with a BA in Marketing/International Business and received an MBA from Baruch Zicklin School of Business in NY. Andrew resides in Chicago with his wife and twin children and is an avid skier.